In general, farms are thought of as relics of the past. Many people are unaware of how food gets to grocery stores or where the food one eats comes from. However, federal grants allocated to farm start-ups are an important step in encouraging people to buy and eat local food.

According to an Oct. 20 Michigan Daily article, the Food System Economic Partnership, a Michigan-based nonprofit organization, will receive nearly $92,000 in grant money from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farmers Market Promotion Program. The grant will be used by FSEP to supply Tillian Farm Development Center, a local farm incubator program outside Ann Arbor Township, with new farming equipment to assist Michigan-based farm start-ups.

With the assistance of the federal grant, residents of Southeast Michigan can look forward to more locally owned farm start-ups. The grants will lead to the consumption of more locally grown foods and create jobs in the area. The University and Ann Arbor businesses should support these start-ups by expanding their partnerships with local farming businesses.

Tilian will provide mentorship, finance and business planning assistance and farming equipment for qualified individuals to start their farms on land provided by the incubator program. Participants of the program who establish their farms in Michigan will increase the amount of locally grown foods in restaurants and markets.

People living in urban areas with little access to fresh or healthy food options — areas known as food deserts — will benefit as more locally grown food becomes available. Many residents who live in these areas don’t have easy access to transportation, but farmers markets that sell fresh produce locally provide easy access to healthy food options. Produce stores or markets that plan to open in these neighborhoods can also benefit from partnerships with local farmers, who can provide regular shipments of fresh fruit and vegetables to fill the aisles at prices residents can afford.

First Lady Michelle Obama — who was in Detroit yesterday — has widely campaigned her “Lets Move” initiative since entering the White House. Obama is trying to decrease obesity, particularly in children. In July, she partnered with Wal-Mart to help open over 1,500 stores that would provide fresh produce in urban areas. In Detroit and other cities throughout Southeast Michigan, many neighborhoods lack accessible, affordable grocery stores. Without fresh and healthy options, people are more susceptible to obesity and other serious diseases. It is important that residents utilize the healthier foods that urban gardening and local farms provide.

A study conducted in 2006 by the Michigan Land Use Institute and the C.S. Mott Group for Sustainable Food showed that when existing Michigan farms increase their sales to produce stores, they generate $187 million in revenue, which can create 1,889 new jobs. With Michigan’s unemployment rate at 11.1 percent, these figures are hard to ignore.

Locally grown food is beneficial for people’s health and the environment, as these foods have fewer chemicals and preservatives and require less fuel to transport. But in order for start-up farms to increase and exert their economic, environmental and health benefits, farmers participating in incubator programs like Tilian must stay in Michigan. For this to occur, local businesses and the University need to expand their relationships with sustainable, local agriculture businesses.

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